Two months ago, I was doing outreach for the Swipe Out Hunger CUNY Food Navigator program. We were hosting an information session and, in preparing for it, compiled a list of key food security stakeholders at CUNY. We view these as people who work directly with students and, as a result, are uniquely positioned to spread the word about food security initiatives and resources to the CUNY community. While doing research to identify these stakeholders, I entered in communication with a financial aid office manager and was astounded to learn that they didn’t consider themself to be a stakeholder and believed they had no business attending the Swipe Out Hunger information session. One of the roadblocks preventing students from knowing about the food security resources available to them is communication and the information not circulating enough.
CUNY staff and faculty can all be food security advocates and are extremely important to students, especially in commuter schools such as CUNY. There is a myriad of resources that students have no idea exist, including food security programs and services on campus or the recent expanded opportunities to enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Many students go to class and then have to rush to work or home to be caregivers for their family. Any staff in every office that students attend are stakeholders when it comes to food security on campus. One cannot be in an office telling students in need that they do not qualify for financial aid or work-study and not feel compelled to connect them with resources, including food security resources such as the CUNY Food Navigator program. This lack of communication also happens with professors, who too are important stakeholders for eradicating hunger at CUNY, but some only see their job as providing a lecture and attending office hours. The truth is that some faculty do not feel a responsibility to foster food security on campus.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many food security policies have been rolled out to support college students. One of these is the expansion of SNAP eligibility for college students and students enrolled in certificate and technical education programs. The USDA created guidelines to navigate these policy rollouts and stressed the importance of stakeholders on campus in distributing this information and for institutions to work with said stakeholders to enroll every newly eligible student. The problem is they do not specify who a stakeholder is, and staff and professors delegate this responsibility to some imaginary higher-up person. While this happens, students have to choose if they will eat or pay their bills. Food security at CUNY is everyone’s responsibility; we are all stakeholders at CUNY.
By Karla Ignacio, CUNY Food Navigator Manager, Swipe Out Hunger